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Charlie Brown and the Pain of Believing

Television and autumn have always had a special relationship; it’s the time of year when networks lift the veil on what they consider to be their best and brightest, and it’s always exciting to see what new shows are going to do well (and, let’s be honest, which ones will flop, because sometimes it’s fun to feel elitist).

My favorite fall TV show hasn’t been new for 43 years. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, which made its TV debut in 1966, has been a staple of my childhood for as long as I could remember, back when TV specials were a big deal because they stripped a network of its regularly scheduled programming for a whole half-hour. My entire family would sit down to watch Charlie Brown and the gang; and we would always laugh at Linus’ stricken expressions, Lucy’s hilariously ironic Halloween costume mask, Charlie Brown’s costume (and his Halloween "candy") and Snoopy’s WWI-era adventure throughout the "French countryside." Everything about it—Vince Guaraldi’s jaunty soundtrack, the animation and even the beautiful watercolor-esque detail of the cartoon’s backgrounds—signaled to me as a kid that fall was really, truly here; and as a kid growing in up in Miami, Fla., we were always absent that trademark cool weather, so it was the best we got.

Charlie Brown’s adventures, no matter which you choose (and there are plenty to choose from), have always focused on both the innocence and brutality of childhood, particularly in terms of bullying, of which Lucy is the ringleader and reigning champion. Usually, the victim is the hapless Charlie Brown, but this particular episode focuses on his best friend, the philosophical Linus, and his faith in a being called the Great Pumpkin. According to Linus, the Great Pumpkin rises from a pumpkin patch each Halloween, but not just any pumpkin patch—the one of a true believer, the "most sincere." (Man, I miss good television—when was the last time you saw a TV show that used the word "sincere" like that?) Naturally, because no one else shares his belief, they mostly dismiss Linus as insane and treat him as such throughout most of the episode.

Some folks, I guess, could probably say that the message Charles Schultz wanted to get across had an anti-religious bend to it—the Great Pumpkin never shows up, after all; and from Linus’ awestruck description of him, he seems like a pretty demanding being anyway—but I think it’s more than that. It’s a commentary on the world’s response to people of faith. How does the world respond to the blind faith of others? Lucy publicly berates Linus for his belief in the Great Pumpkin; Sally at first wants to believe out of a crush she has on him, but deserts Linus when the proof she needs does not arrive; and Charlie Brown is accepting enough of Linus, letting him believe what he wants, but ultimately chalks it up to "denominational differences" when they can’t agree and leaves him alone.

How does the world respond to your faith? Have you, like Linus, been able to show others what you believe in, even if they ultimately leave you out in the cold? Have you been mercilessly ridiculed in front of your friends? Do they even know you believe at all?
 And it kind of works the other way, too: how can you see your own current relationship with Jesus—and how you evangelize? Like Sally, did you come to Him because you had a crush on a guy you thought was cute and who loved the Lord (don’t laugh, it really happens!), or because someone was so full of conviction that you knew they had to be right? Are you like Charlie Brown, who is mildly interested in what other people believe in but don’t want to get into arguments over it? Or are you most like Lucy, who publicly makes a point to put down anything that is not what she believes in (and extremely obnoxiously, at that)?

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Any way you see yourself, I hope two things for you: One, that you’re most like Snoopy, who does his own thing regardless of what others’ opinions are; and two, that even if you are teased, ridiculed, left out in the cold and lying in the dirt of your own pumpkin patch for your faith, you have someone to bring you in to the warmth of a house and the comfort of your own bed, ready to continue your journey of faith the next day, as adamant and full of conviction as ever.

And if you get the chance, make sure to catch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, when it comes around on TV this year.  Just taken on its own, without any theological ramblings (because, as Freud said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar), it’s great fun to watch—and to keep watching—every year.

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